He just couldn't leave...
Hauntings from Hull - A Night at the Pictures
For those unfamiliar with the Central Library in Hull's Albion Street, there is besides reading matter, a wealth of film entertainment at the Hull Film Theatre. This is a 249 seat cinema tucked away within the library complex. From behind the scenes comes our next story.
For many years Peter had been interested in the acquisition and collection of films of local historical interest. His enthusiasm for the subject and love of the cinema overflowed not only to his family, but to many friends, including myself, who had the privilege and pleasure of sharing Peter's hobby. This interest had also afforded Peter the position of a projectionist and technician on the Film Theatre's team. In late 1984, after a short illness, Peter passed on and sadly with him a wealth of cinematic knowledge was lost.
Just over a year after Peter's death, the film 'A Passage To India' was being shown at the afternoon matinee performance. The new projectionist on duty at the time, Jamie, was working at a table near one of the projectors. Jamie suddenly became aware of a shadow of a man on the wall in front of him. He turned to see who it was, but no-one was there. He then heard a voice from the shadow which said, 'Tell Margaret I'm all right.'
Now Jamie had never met Peter, but knew instantly that this was who the apparition must be.
After the show, Jamie related his experience to Jack, the duty manager, who had been a close friend of the deceased. The following day Jamie was to learn that Peter's widow, Margaret, had actually been in the audience that very afternoon.
When Margaret herself heard this from Jack, who related it with some hesitation, she found comfort in knowing that she hadn't lost her husband altogether. But how strange that he should 'be there' on that particular afternoon.
I’ll tell you this just as Hilary told it to me. You can believe it or not, as you like.
I’ve only worked at the Rex for a short while, as relief once a week. Hilary’s been the manageress for more years that she cares to remember. (Her words, not mine. Oh, and by the way, I’m changing all the names in this tale, just in case anyone takes offence.) She’s seen projectionists come and she’s seen them go. She was particularly sorry to say goodbye to Sylvia, about 10 years back. Lady projectionists were even rarer then, but Sylvia was as reliable as they come, and a willing worker.
She had first come on a fortnight’s trial, when it was obvious that Bert would soon have to retire. Bert had been at the Rex since before Hilary. He’d started as a rewind boy in the good old days - in other words, when projectionists were even worse paid than they are now, and when the rewind boy’s position exactly fitted Charles Laughton’s description of a naval midshipman. But Bert had stuck at it, and had slowly worked his way up until he was the Chief. He’d married, and had two children, but when his wife died his life simply continued as before. It revolved completely around his flat, his bicycle (he’d never had a car) and the Rex. There was nothing he didn’t know about the workings of the cinema - where every cable duct was, how long every light bulb would last, and of course every last square millimetre of the two machines. He didn’t really believe that females had any business in a projection box, but he gave Sylvia a thorough grounding just the same, and eventually he admitted that she really was up to running films on his beloved Westrex’s.
So at long last he retired. Perhaps he’d lost heart when the place was twinned, and the two machines had been banished from each other’s company to opposite ends of the box. Anyhow, he left Sylvia to it, and never came near the place. The only exceptions were those rare occasions when she came up against a problem she hadn’t met before. Then Hilary would send out an SOS, and within fifteen minutes Bert would be at the front entrance. He would park his bike against the front steps, exchange a few words with Hilary at the till, and then trudge up the stairs to the upper foyer, through the back of Screen Two, and on into the box.
Of course, as time went by, these occasions grew fewer and further between. Eventually there was little that could go wrong that Sylvia wasn’t able to sort out on her own. So Hilary was surprised one day to hear her complain about a faint shadow that had appeared in the picture in Screen Two. It looked almost like the outline of a human being. You remember the figure that they used on the front of the “Saint” books? - well, like that. She had dusted, cleaned, oiled and adjusted everything she could think of, but it stubbornly refused to go away. The audiences didn’t seem to notice (nothing new there, of course), but Sylvia was still convinced it was there, and it got right under her skin.
Eventually she swallowed her pride and asked Hilary to phone Bert. It was just as if nothing had changed. Within fifteen minutes there he was, parking his bike by the front entrance. He exchanged the usual few words with Hilary, and disappeared round the corner towards the stairs to the upper foyer. “Ah, well,” thought Hilary, “problem solved.”
But that wasn’t quite how it turned out. Ten minutes later there was a call from the box on the intercom. “Have you called Bert yet? Because if not, you needn’t bother, it’s not worth it. Would you believe it, that wretched shadow has just this moment disappeared from the screen. The picture seems perfectly clear again.”
“But Bert’s already arrived, I saw him only a few moments ago.”
“Oh well, not to worry, he’s probably stopped off in Screen Two, to take a careful look at the picture.”
But Hilary was not so sure. She left the box office, and set off for the upper foyer. And at the foot of the stairs, sitting on the old settee that had probably been there since the cinema opened, she found Bert. He was looking very peaceful, with a faint smile of satisfaction on his face. But he would obviously not be making any more visits to the box.
Hilary assures me that this is a true story. She says that ever afterwards Sylvia was slightly unhappy about making her way through the darkened Screen Two after closing down for the night. Not that she ever saw anything; she just felt that everything was not quite as it should be. Mind you, I am assured, I don’t have a thing to worry about. I’m a man, and Bert would therefore have no objections to me working in his box.
Hardly a P.C. attitude, I suppose. But then, if you’re a ghost, I reckon you’re allowed to be sexist.